Columns - Political Column

Workers’ crisis: Stitch in time would have saved life

  • Angry President blames Labour Minister and others for failing to educate employees on merits of aborted Pension Bill
  • Govt blames JVP for turmoil but it was FTZ trade union leaders who galvanised protests
By Our Political Editor

The government saw it coming, but not in its wildest dreams did it expect the turn of events this week to turn into such a nightmare. Most of the activity revolved around the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) also known as the Export Promotion Zone (EPZ) where from last week workers, a bulk of them women, began agitating against the proposed Private Sector Pensions Bill.

These workers had turned violent beginning last week. In one of their daring acts, they had the audacity to bring down one of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's huge cutout that is strategically placed on the main Negombo-Colombo highway at the point the Katunayake airport road connects, and one of the first signs for visitors from abroad to see on arrival.

Soldiers ring the church premises where the body of slain youth Roshen Chanaka lies- in-state. Pic by Sanka Vidanagama

That audacious act angered those in the higher echelons and teams of police detectives fanned out in search of the culprits that same night. There were the dreaded midnight knocks on the doors of suspects' homes and some 55 people were taken in for questioning. They were released at daybreak but the move had only strengthened the resolve of the activists, rather than diminished it.

In the forefront of the agitation were women union leaders as well. Some of them were Sujeewa Nelumani of the Biyagama-based National Workers Congress (NWC), Chaminda Thushari of 'Dabindu' ('Drop of Sweat') and Lalitha Dedumakumara who goes as the '3 Zone Coordinator for Biyagama'.
They seemed intense in their protest. They said that FTZ and EPZ workers, mostly girls often skipped meals, had to pay for their meals and lodging and some of them worked in 'sweat shops' and hardly saved anything. They felt the government was preparing to 'rob them' of their meagre savings.

The government's moves to change the established savings scheme of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF)and Gratuity when workers in the private sector reached a certain age and could take their savings was causing concern. The plan, initiated by the Ministry of Finance was given to the Ministry of Labour to implement.

Labour MinisterLokuge not the best to sell the plan
Labour Minister Gamini Lokuge was not the best advocate to sell the plan to the private sector. A former union leader in the United National Party (UNP), Lokuge looked uncomfortable when he appeared on local Tv chat shows to defend the new scheme. His argument that the new scheme would ensure that workers could draw their savings at a later stage and thereby not bust up the money on weddings of their children and "such unnecessary expenditure" so that they don't have to work at nights as security guards to make ends meet in the evening of their life sounded hollow in the backdrop of increasing suspicion in the country that the government was tinkering with these savings funds to finance its own pet projects and to ensure its own ends meet.

Already, there is some whispering about the manner in which the government has put its hands into the Employees Trust Fund (ETF) account and used that money to invest in public ventures, including private banks.

It was in this environment that President Rajapaksa summoned a meeting of his party's (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) organisers at Temple Trees last Sunday to discuss what was already a crisis situation developing in the FTZ and EPZ. Rajapaksa himself by then had indicated that he was willing to reconsider the bill, if the workers were not willing to accept it. The Ceylon Bank Employees Union (CBEU) had gone to the Supreme Court and objected to certain provisions, and the government had indicated a willingness to consider some of its suggestions. Lokuge was also telling the public, though not very effectively, that the government was prepared to take opposition suggestions on board when the bill was brought before Parliament.

The SLFP organisers, however, told Rajapaksa that the public, especially the workers in the private sector, were not properly aware what the bill was all about, and what they entertained were fears that the government was going to deprive them of their dues when they retire from service. Inadequate publicity (by the government) and misinformation (by the opposition) were the key to the agitation that had sprung among the workers especially in the multi-million rupee apparel factories in the FTZ and EPZ. The meeting ended inconclusively with the President telling them that he would have further discussions on the issue in the coming few days.

The following day (Monday), the SLFP's Central Committee was summoned for an urgent meeting with the President. The meeting took place as renewed protests were launched by the FTZ/EPZ workers on the streets, especially around the Katunayake international airport area. These protests took a nasty turn with more than 250 workers and several policemen being injured in the clashes and taken for treatment to the Negombo Hospital.

The Police opened fire with live ammunition that triggered further tension. A spokesman for the Police came with the not unsurprising explanation of demonstrators storming the Katunayake Police station and trying to seize their weapons compelling the Police to open fire. It was this firing of live ammo that was to take a nasty turn for the government in the hours that followed. A 22-year-old youth, just four months in employment at Toroid International (Pvt.) Ltd., producers of transformers, had been shot, fatally.
President Rajapaksa by then had decided that workers in the FTZ/EPZ would be exempted from the Pensions Bill. The Police tried to communicate this decision to the demonstrators who were in no mood to listen. The Police firing simply incensed them. They called for a total strike the next day (Tuesday) as the FTZ/EPZ area had turned into a furnace of protest. The wounded youth, Roshen Chanaka Ratnasekera was taken to the Ragama Hospital amidst the chaos.

At the SLFP Central Committee meeting, President Rajapaksa took the view that though the private sector pension scheme was a positive step, a systematic awareness campaign had not been launched by the government. He said such a campaign should have preceded the introduction of the bill. He blamed the relevant ministers for not carrying out this campaign, and added that "even some ministers don't know what this scheme is about".

President Rajapaksa suggested that all coalition partners of the ruling UPFA (United People's Front Alliance) should meet with agitating trade union leaders and have further discussions on the merits and de-merits of the proposed bill.

The Central Committee members were then invited to say what they had to say. Environment Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa urged the suspension of the bill due to the adverse publicity. He said the people were not aware of the benefits that would accrue from the scheme and that the bad publicity was bad for the government.

Senior Minister Piyasena Gamage echoed those same sentiments;' the benefits from the scheme had not reached the ears of the workers'. Instead, the scheme had drawn protests from the private sector employees "who were instigating garment factory workers to protest".

These remarks seem to have irked Lokuge who reacted by saying that he had taken sufficient steps to "educate the public", but President Rajapaksa was not impressed. "If there was a proper campaign to educate the workers this situation would not have arisen," he said.

Gamage was to continue. He pointed out that these protesting garment workers had voted for the President, but now the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was capitalising on the issue.
President Rajapaksa was of the same mood as he was the previous week; if the workers did not want the scheme, there was no need to force it down their throats. He stopped short of saying that the scheme should be entirely withdrawn. He said there might be people who wanted this scheme, so there was a need to work on it and prepare an alternate bill that would meet their requirements and ensure there were no protests.

Blame at the door step of the JVP
All the blame, however, was eventually put at the door step of the JVP which was accused of trying to tarnish the image of the Rajapaksa presidency. They went on to point out that the JVP was even protesting the Leadership Training Programme launched by the government whereby military style physical training and lectures on national heroes etc., were being introduced to new recruits to the country's universities.

At this point, SLFP General Secretary and Helath Minister Maithripala Sirisena together with Anura Priyadharshana Yapa and UPFA General Secretary and Petroleum Minister Susil Premajayantha proposed that the Pensions Bill be suspended and an awareness campaign be launched. Lokuge also agreed to the proposal.

President Rajapaksa then said he too was in agreement and urged that an awareness programme to promote the bill be launched. Quoting text book Marxist-Leninist jargon, Rajapaksa said "let's take one step back, and two steps forward".

That night, an official statement from the party said the Central Committee had passed a resolution to suspend the Pensions Bill. It gave no real reasons but said there was a need to ensure that industrial peace was restored in the FTZ/EPZ.

Government at sixes and sevens
That the government was at sixes and sevens was clear by the fact that while the FTZ/EPZ was in turmoil and before the SLFP Central Committee was to meet, the UPFA had its own news conference with former Trotskyite firebrand and workers leader of yesteryear turned government Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, flanked by Maithripala Sirisena and Susil Premjayantha on a completely different wave length saying that the pension scheme would be made optional and going on to speak of the virtues of the bill.

By Wednesday, the news of Roshen Chanaka Ratnasekera's condition turning critical came to the ears of President Rajapaksa. He was furious at the turn of events and turned on his Police chief Dr. Mahinda Balasuriya immediately. All the blame landed on the heads of the Police and Balasuriya. He put in his retirement papers with immediate effect and the acting Deputy Inspector General of Police for the Province was immediately sent back to where he came from, Kandy. The news came that same night that Roshen Chanaka Ratnasekera, from a UNP family but one who had joined the JVP union at his workplace, had died in hospital.

The government moved in swiftly to ensure that no one, particularly the JVP would use the funeral of the young factory worker for political mileage against the government. The post-mortem was conducted at 10.30 the same night by the Chief Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Keerthi Gunatillake of the Ragama Hospital assisted by Dr. Deepal Fernando and Dr. Suranga Perera, and it had gone on till 4.30 the next morning. The verdict was that death was caused by a shot from a firearm causing damage to a blood vessel that created a hypovolemic shock, a condition caused by excessive bleeding.

The body was handed over to the victim's brother and taken to a private undertaker under heavy armed escort. It was then brought to their residence in the Minuwangoda area around 11.30 on Thursday. The entire area had been surrounded by the army. The father of the youth told the media that the family was proud that their son had died in a struggle on behalf of the poor workers of the country. That evening Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga visited the Ratnasekera residence. Backhoe earth moving equipment had been sent by the government to widen the narrow road leading to the house to permit vehicles to reach the funeral house.

In the meantime, the humble family somehow seemed to produce an affidavit before the Magistrate urging that the funeral of Roshen Chanaka, scheduled for yesterday afternoon be a private one at the cemetery adjoining the Roman Catholic church premises with only the parish priest performing the funeral rites and a family member making a thank you speech. President Rajapaksa announced that Rs. 1 million would be paid as compensation to the Ratnasekera family, and asked the Board of Investment (BoI) to make the payment. It was learnt that the Ratnasekera family did not even have a bank account.
Last morning, in another surprise move, the body of the youth was taken to the church to lie-in-state before the announced time. The government was taking no chances. It anticipated the possibility of trade unionists 'grabbing' the body on its way from the home to the church for burial. Soldiers ringed the church's outer premises while separate trade unions gathered in numbers and braced themselves for a confrontation. Villagers, many of them in the silversmith trade also wended their way for the funeral as the government did its utmost to avoid what could have been a serious backlash sparking another confrontation.

Meanwhile, the country's oldest Left party, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), once in the vanguard of workers' struggles, was but a shadow of what it was. Clearly, compromised by its participation in the UPFA coalition, it woke up only on Thursday with a feeble statement signed by Minister Tissa Vitharana in his capacity as the General Secretary to say the party support the bill but oppose some of its provisions, and blamed the JVP for all the protests.

On Thursday, Cabinet spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella also blamed the JVP for Monday's protests charging the JVP had instigated workers to "storm the factories". But the fact of the matter was that the JVP really came late into the scene in this entire FTZ/EPZ protest drama.

Joint Sec. FTZ&GSEU - key figure
One of the key figures behind these protests was trade unionist Anton Marcus, the Joint Secretary of the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU). He has been closely associated with the Free Trade Zone activities ever since they were started back in the UNP era of the late 1970s, co-ordinating the work of the 14 export processing zones which has a workforce of 150,000 and has been closely involved with, and quite well funded by several international organisations, among them the powerful American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Marcus is an indefatigable activist campaigner through the AFL-CIO and it will be recalled that the US government called the Sri Lanka government for public hearings last year on the labour laws applicable in Sri Lanka, with special emphasis on the Free Trade Zones depending on which they said the American GSP (not to be confused with the European Union's GSP plus) was to be reviewed. This was based on a complaint lodged to the AFL-CIO by Marcus.

The FTZ&GSEU had launched its campaign within the zone six weeks back distributing leaflets to workers and 'educating' them. This was followed by pocket meetings outside factories and even boarding houses winding them up.

It was only thereafter that the Joint Trade Unions Alliance (JTU) an umbrella organisation of 26 trade unions representing the health, port, transport and education sectors decided to join the campaign. Another meeting was held at the J.R. Jayewardene Centre in Colombo followed by a signature campaign.
On May 1, while the government crowed that its had attracted the largest gathering of workers for its May Day rally in Colombo, the JTA focused on the controversial pension scheme while another seminar was held for FTZ/EPZ workers at the Jayalath cinema in Seeduwa. On May 24 a protest rally was called and the large gathering marched to the Urban Council grounds close to the airport junction. It was there that they hauled down and destroyed the President's massive cut-out.

Pension that will protect the workers!
Labour Minister Lokuge visited the zone the next day and tried to reason out the government's position, but was unable to answer some questions. He said the proposed bill would not be presented without the workers' consent, but the day after pro-bill leaflets were distributed and posters came up saying 'Sevakayan Surakina Wishrama Wetupa Dinagamu" (let's win the pension that will protect the workers).
This infuriated the workers to resume their protest and that was when all hell broke lose. Unionists claim that the Police not only shot live ammunition at them, but broke into factories and assaulted workers. They say that women hiding in toilets were pulled out and slapped and some having lunch had curry poured over their heads.

In some factories, which are joint ventures with companies from Japan, the US, Germany and the Netherlands machinery and computers were wrecked. Some were locked up in cells and others taken to hospital as mayhem reigned. The death of Roshen Chanaka was partly due to the delay in getting him to the hospital.

As opposition political leaders, including UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, party secretary Tissa Attanayake and co deputy leader Sajith Premadasa visited the grieving Ratnasekera family, the diplomatic community was also quick to react.

German ambassador Jens Plotner was one of the earliest to take up cudgels. He met Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday. A spokesman for the embassy said that Plotner's meeting was "in the wake of Monday's events in the FTZ Katunayake which also concerned a number of German companies", and added that the Defence Secretary explained the government's assessment on Monday's events as well as the measures taken by the government in response. "Ambassador Plotner welcomed the swift reaction of the government as well as the measures undertaken", the spokesman added.

Other reports, however, indicated that Plotner was to tell the Defence Secretary that the Police used "the disproportionate use of force" in dealing with the crisis and hinted that this could impact on future German investment in Sri Lanka.

What is ironical is that trade union rights were originally restricted in this area so that the 'robber barons' can be attracted to invest in Sri Lanka without the hassle of trade unions. Now, the countries from where these companies are registered are insisting that Sri Lanka has international worker rights.
All round, the week's events around the Free Trade Zone area were not a good sign for the government, both domestically and internationally.

Sri Lanka under attack in Geneva

By Our Political Editor

The cooler climes of the land of mountains, rocks and lakes have turned out to be the hot spot for Sri Lanka. From Geneva in Switzerland, an avalanche of both unprecedented and bad publicity is cascading to the world media every day.

Christof Heyns, right, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Jeff S. Spivack, 2nd right, Forensic Video Analyst, present the video footage which document the committing of extrajudicial executions, allegedly by members of the Sri Lankan Army, during a news conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday. (Pic courtesy AP Photo/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

As revealed exclusively in the Sunday Times last week, a formal discussion on the reports of the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) that probed war crimes allegations in Sri Lanka during the concluding stages of the separatist war in May 2009 is not an issue. The matter will not come up for formal discussion until the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) meets again in Geneva in September this year. This is notwithstanding the remarks of the head of the UN Human Rights Commission, South African born Navi Pillai on the opening day of the UNHRC sessions this week that the panel report warrants an international investigation.

A formal discussion of the UN report on alleged 'war crimes' in Sri Lanka, diplomats in Geneva say, would have to await a formal UN missive to its office in Geneva. In New York, the UN's main headquarters is also awaiting a formal response from the Sri Lankan government to the PoE report.

Though not a direct response to the report, the External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris has, in a confidential communication to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, assured that a document was being formulated for submission. "The UN is awaiting that document before formally communicating its official position to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights", the source said.

Instead, the diplomatic time bomb that is ticking away is a Report by Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra judicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions. Sri Lanka's delegation in Geneva - comprising Ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe, Nimal Siripala de Silva and Attorney General Mohan Peiris -- was joined by a fourth player this week. Its mission was to lobby against the possible adoption of a resolution calling for an international investigation at the UN Human Rights Council. He is Dayan Jayatilleke, Sri Lanka's current Ambassador to France and a former envoy to the UN in Geneva.
The conduct of Sri Lanka's new home grown diplomacy in Geneva has fallen on the Minister of Plantation Industries who should worry about doubling the output of crops, the Attorney General who has to worry over prosecutions and an envoy to France whose job is to improve relations between Paris and Colombo. The trio have to defend the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and Sri Lanka.

Throughout the week, from early in the morning, at noon over lunches and late into the night, the trio, along with Minister Siripala de Silva have been shaking hands and making friends with envoys from the 47 member states of the UNHRC. They have a tough mission on hand -- to win over members of the UNHRC and ensure there is no international investigation into a controversial video aired by Britain's Channel 4 TV purportedly depicting Sri Lankan soldiers summarily executing captured LTTE cadres.

Heyns’ comments
Just last week, Heyns, also South African born, told the Council that the UN found the footage was "authentic". His report claimed, "The Special Rapporteur has concluded that the video footage indicates the commission of serious crimes, which should together with any other available evidence be examined systematically and professionally by domestic investigators appointed by the Sri Lanka Government, as well as by an independent, international investigative body, with a clear mandate to establish who should be held accountable for the killings."

The report added, "What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order -- definitive war crimes. Judging by the use of cell phones by soldiers in the video, there may well be other records of the same events available. There appear to be links that can be made to other evidentiary material, which is already available or may still be brought to light, giving a clearer picture of what happened during the last phase of the war. Investigating the identity of those whose faces are captured so clearly on these videos cannot be difficult for the Government, which may contact the commanders of the troops who participated in the last phases of the war. Similarly, an international investigation with appropriate powers of inquiry and witness protection mechanisms will also be well placed to address these issues."

The official response of the Government of Sri Lanka came from Attorney General Peiris. He said the footage aired by Channel 4 was blurred and illegible. Government officials have continued to claim that the contents of the video were fake and formed part of a plot to discredit Sri Lanka.

In fact, the government had commissioned its own 'experts' who ruled that the video was not authentic material. These reports received wide publicity in the local media. Heightening international concerns over the Channel 4 execution video are new developments that come as mounting pressure from world powers, especially western powers.

This week, in an interview with the European service of the BBC, Judge Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor for Yugoslavia and Rwanda at the war crimes tribunal in the Hague was quoted as saying: "It is my hope that the leaders of Sri Lanka and Syria will not be granted immunity for the crimes they are alleged to have committed against innocent civilians in their countries. The arrest in the past few days of Gen Mladic must cause added discomfort for others alleged to have committed serious war crimes. They must be concerned that eventually they will be brought to account before relevant domestic or international courts and will have to answer to many tens of thousands of victims for the crimes alleged to have been committed by them……"

Goldstone's report on the Gaza war was viewed as an influential document. There were accusations that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes. That Goldstone is Jewish gave credibility to accusations against Israel.

But in an opinion piece in the Washington Post in April this year, Goldstone, apparently under pressure from the Jewish community in South Africa, wrote that his conclusions about Israel appeared to have been wrong.

He said the Israeli investigations, which were recognised by a UN committee, indicated that "civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy".

An equally significant event was played out on Friday in Room 22 of the Palais de Nations, located in the 45 hectare Ariana Park -- the venue of the United Nations in Geneva. A film was screened jointly by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. This is how the two bodies described the film in invitations extended to delegates: "Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch invite you to a premier screening of Channel 4 Television's powerful new one-hour investigative documentary, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields.

"The film, directed by Callum Macrae, provides powerful evidence -- including photographic stills, official Sri Lankan army video footage and satellite imagery -- that contradicts the Sri Lankan government's claims of a policy of 'Zero Civilian Casualties'. It raises serious questions about the failures of the international community to intervene to prevent the deaths of up to forty thousand people and lends new urgency to the call by the UN Secretary-General's panel of expert's for an international investigation."
Invited to view the film were Minister Samarasinghe and Attorney-General Mohan Peiris. If this is a part of a campaign against Sri Lanka, the film is to be telecast on Channel 4 in Britain on June 14. It has come to light that it has been timed for just one day ahead of British Prime Minister, David Cameron's question time in the House of Commons. The Tamil lobby in Britain has canvassed British parliamentarians to watch the film and "press the government" to take action.

At the screening in Geneva, freelance documentary producer Callum Macrea and the Amnesty chief Zam Zarifi took the head table first. Callum explained how the film was put together. He claimed he has brought in as much evidence as possible into the documentary. He did not want to be the person who should decide what is next and pointed at many country representatives, INGOs, and media personnel among others who should decide what is next.

The film ran for nearly an hour. There was video footage of how the war was fought; some footage claimed that the UN had to evacuate from the Vanni due to threats from the Sri Lankan government. Footage also claimed to show what happened the day they left. There were interviews from two former UN staff members and shots of people, grieving and pleading at the gates of the UN compound.
After the screening, both Zarifi and Macrae made short remarks. The Sri Lankan delegate, A.H.M.D. Navaz from the Attorney General's Department was given 10 minutes to make a statement. He argued that this couldn't be a Philips mobile phone (from which the photos were taken) as claimed by some experts and therefore it cannot be authentic. The Channel 4 representative said "I am sorry it is Philips or whatever, the content is what we are seeking to investigate…"

The audience was also permitted to share their thoughts or ask questions. Many did. A few spoke in favour of Sri Lanka, but some remarked that previous Presidential Commissions of Inquiry have not performed properly, a reference to whether an internal probe into these matters was acceptable on past record. The Channel 4 video also blames the UN for its lack of action.

But the Government's position was that it had already submitted a detailed response to the UN Special Rapporteur Heyns giving reasons for rejecting the Channel 4 video. In Sri Lanka's response to the technical note given by the Special Rapporteur in relation to the authenticity of a second extended Channel 4 video tape, the Government noted that the images contained in it were blurred and illegible and "were not of a quality that could be examined and therefore precluded the Government from making an objective assessment."

The response said the apparent lack of professional diligence in ensuring that legible copies were made available in a timely manner is suggestive of a want of good faith. It also noted that the fact that the contents of the video were not made available to the Sri Lankan Government by Channel 4 lends support to the suspicion that the broadcast of the videos was for a collateral purpose.

The Sri Lankan delegation members presenting their case at the UNHRC

Meanwhile the Special Rapporteur last week renewed his request to the Government to extend an invitation to him to undertake an official visit to Sri Lanka. The Government in its response said Sri Lanka was ready to constructively engage with the Special Rapporteur in the future on the basis of transparency and fair process being adopted but did not indicate if Mr. Heyns would be welcome to visit the country.
Attorney General Peiris who represented Sri Lanka at the HRC sessions reiterated the position that the poor quality of the video made the proper assessment of its authenticity difficult.

Samarasinghe gives opening speech

Following the AI and HRW screening of the movie from 11 am to 1 pm on Friday, the Sri Lanka delegation held its own event in the same room. Many country representatives turned up to hear Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe give the opening speech explaining how Sri Lanka recognizes that at times, the post-conflict era is more challenging than the conflict period. He said that Sri Lanka recognizes that there are human rights and other issues and the government seeks help, not hindrance to get over and become a fully fledged democracy. He blamed Channel 4, the Special Rapporteur, some sections of the International Community (IC), some NGOs and INGOs, but acknowledged that some NGOs and INGOs and a greater part of the IC had been very generous and helpful at the time of need for Sri Lanka.
He said the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) should be given the help and support -- and the space for it to conclude its findings.

Two separate power-point presentations were then made; one 'National Action Plan', and the second on 'Rehabilitation & Reconstruction'. The floor was then opened for comment and questions. Samarasinghe gave the floor first to the US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva. She started to praise the Sri Lanka government for its reconciliation steps but quickly changed her tone to say that Sri Lanka is taking a path that is widening the gap between what the IC is seeking and what Sri Lanka is doing. "That is not good in anyone's best interest", she said and added that by point-blank rejecting allegations and without addressing the accountability issue properly, Sri Lanka's best endeavours to peace and reconciliation would not be achieved.

The Chinese, Russian, Pakistani and Maldives delegations spoke in favour of Sri Lanka. They asserted that Sri Lanka should be given all the assistance to deal with its internal problems through its own systems and processes. Costa Rica, Switzerland, and the EU delegates posed questions to articulate the weaknesses in the current approach by Sri Lanka.

Many others present, including human rights activist Gary Anandasangaree of Canada, Kirubaharan of France and Suren Surendiran representing the Global Tamil Forum were also allowed to pose questions. Most of the legal questions were answered by Attorney General Peiris. To one of the questions about the appointment of judges by the President, Peiris replied: "Even in America judges are appointed by the President". K.T. Rajasingham, the editor of the Asian tribune made a lengthy statement in praise of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Samarasinghe wound up the discussion saying that his president was "genuinely serious" about reconciliation.

At the UNHRC, reports say, that British diplomats have been less active compared to their US counterparts. One source said that the former is of the view that matters relating to the UN PoE should be raised at the next sessions of the UN Council. However, this does not mean that both Britain and the United States are backing out of supporting the resolution over the Channel 4 video.
These sessions continue through the week to come as well.

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